Sami Zayn competed in arguably the finest matches in WWE and NXT in 2016 against Kevin Owens and Shinshuke Nakamura respectively.
Yet just over three weeks away from WrestleMania 33, the fan favourite isn’t guaranteed a spot on the company’s biggest show of the year.
The 32-year-old, from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, has spent much of the past six months proving himself against the monstrous Braun Strowman.
He entered the Royal Rumble match in January at number eight, lasting more than 47 minutes before being eliminated by the legendary Undertaker.
Since then he has become embroiled by proxy in Seth Rollins feud with Triple H, stepping in for the injured Rollins against HHH’s hired gun Samoa Joe.
‘The Destroyer’ defeated him at Fastlane on March 5 thanks to a Coquina Clutch and now fans are left wondering whether their rivalry will resume on April 2.
Zayn spoke to the Mirror about feuding with Joe, fan appreciation, Kevin Owens loss to Goldberg, WrestleMania 33 and a possible move to SmackDown.
What do you think your involvement at WrestleMania 33 will be?
To be honest I really don’t know. This time of year is so crazy and WrestleMania is so big and there are always these marquee matches, so real estate is really tight on WrestleMania. So I don’t know what I will be doing. Right now I’m involved with Samoa Joe, whether that will carry on to WrestleMania, I really don’t know, it remains to be seen. The card for WrestleMania is always changing.
How have you found renewing your rivalry from NXT with Samoa Joe? Do you particularly enjoy facing that type of hard-hitting opponent?
Yeah, when you’re in the ring with a guy like Joe it really tests you out, your physical limitations and abilities. For that reason I like being in the ring with him. He’s aligned himself with Triple H, which is interesting and we’ll have to see where that goes. I really enjoyed my matches with him in NXT, because even though we have known each other for a long time – I first met him in 2004, 2005 – the first time really we got in the ring with each other was in NXT. So I really enjoyed being in the ring with him then and now. But there’s no doubt about it, he’s a tough competitor, he’s 100% legit, so you’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to know what you’re in for when you’re facing him.
When you are in the opening match of a pay-per-view, as you were against Samoa Joe at Fastlane, does that change you preparation in any way?
Maybe a little bit. It’s a double-edged sword, because when you’re on first or second, you get that really hot crowd, where they’re just really excited, the show has just started and they’re really enthusiastic. The later on you are on the card, the tougher it is, because WWE shows nowadays are really, really good, there are so many good matches. The crowd gets tired from reacting to all these great matches and it gets harder and harder to elicit the response you want sometimes. Sometimes the later you are on the card, the harder your job is, but a part of me really likes that, you know? But on the other hand being first or second and knowing you’re going to have a great crowd is also good. I guess in an ideal world I’d like to be the main event every night! But then if I was, a nice spot on the card is normally the second or third match, because they’ve had some time to warm up but they’re not tired yet. The first match is a lot of responsibility because you’re opening the show and kind of dictating how the crowd is going to be for the rest of the night. If your match sucks the crowd could be flat for the rest of the night! There’s a lot of responsibility either way you cut it, but the truth is there’s no bad spot on any WWE show.
Your match against Shinshuke Nakamura at NXT TakeOver: Dallas last April was voted by many fans and pundits as the best NXT match of 2016. Similarly, the Daily Mirror and many other publications named your bout against Kevin Owens at Battleground in July as the best WWE main roster match of the year . What does it mean to you to have two of your matches rated so highly?
Well it’s an honour because as I said earlier, in this day and age there are so many great matches now. The bar has been set really high as far as workrate and everything else. And not only do we have tonnes of great matches, but also we have tonnes of content available now. If you can create a great match, a story that will really live on and not only capture people’s attention and captivate them at the time, but if it can live on in their memories – people still talk to me about my match with Nakamura and that match with Owens now, a year later – if you can have long-lasting effect on something, that’s when you know you’re creating something good. So I’m honoured and I’m proud, I’m definitely proud to be a part of those matches. I do think they are two of my better matches. So I’m very proud of them and more importantly I’m honoured that the fans remember them and appreciate them all this time later. That’s what really means the most to me.
What did you think of Kevin Owens losing the Universal Championship to Goldberg at Fastlane in 21 seconds?
I’m pretty split on this really, because a part of me obviously resents Kevin. There’s a lot of history, it’s a pretty volatile relationship – especially where we’re at now. But at the same time look… this is still a guy that’s worked 15 years to come this close to being in the main event of WrestleMania and having it slip through his fingers right before it happens… part of me is glad it happened, but part of me feels like it sucks. It sucks for him, because he came real close and he held that Universal Championship for a long time, then when you come that close to actually defending it at WrestleMania, you kind of fall right before the finish line. This is still a guy I’ve known for 15 years, a guy who worked his ass off to get to where he is, so it kind of sucks to see that happen.
You made your Wrestlemania debut last year, competing against Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Stardust, Sin Cara and Zack Ryder in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship, which was won by Ryder. How was that experience for you?
It was pretty incredible and I don’t take it for granted because now, a year later, I find myself unsure of what I’ll be doing at WrestleMania, so I realise how lucky I was to kinda come up at the right time, where I was already figured into a storyline with Kevin Owens because of our history there. And I kinda got called up at a time when I was able to come right into the scene and be on my first WrestleMania, the biggest WrestleMania of all time, in Dallas. It was pretty overwhelming. Honestly, it was just an awesome experience but now, with this year being a little more uncertain for me, I really realised how precious a spot on WrestleMania is. It kinda just makes that moment or that memory of being at WrestleMania last year, even cherished and even more sweet.
What do you think you need to do to progress in your career and ensure that you have a match at WrestleMania?
I really don’t know. I don’t know what the next step is for me, to take me to the next level. I know where I’d like to be – I’d like to be in a featured match on WrestleMania, not just this year but every year. I’d like to be somebody fans are excited to see ‘What he’s going to do this year at WrestleMania?’ I’m not quite there yet. I feel like I’m getting there. I feel time is kind of the enemy but it’s also on your side too because the more work you put in, and the more you constantly and consistently give good performances against good opponents and constantly exceed people’s expectations, the more you really endear yourself to the crowd. That’s how your career takes off – it’s just consistency and time. I’d love to tell you that, ‘Oh, all I need is one good match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, and that’s it, I’m set’, but that’s not how it works. It’s got to be repetition of me over and over again, constantly delivering the goods every time I’m out there. And that’s how I’m going to get to where I’d like to be, which is in an important match at WrestleMania every year.
Post-WrestleMania, when the 2017 WWE Draft takes place, would you prefer to stay on Raw, or move to SmackDown Live?
I really don’t know if I have a preference. In some ways, going to SmackDown Live would be really cool. I feel like there are a lot of good opponents for me and I think there is a lot of opportunity there. I can really see myself being in a pretty good spot up there, even wrestling for the WWE Championship. But I feel like if I left tomorrow, assuming that the draft is tomorrow, I’d feel a little incomplete. I’d feel like there was more that I could have accomplished on Raw. I like to leave each place better than I left it so I’d like to do more on Raw and make Raw a better place and accomplish more on Raw before I can even start thinking of going to SmackDown. That’s just the way that the chips fall and if I end up on SmackDown, I’d be happy to be there but I’d still feel like I had more to accomplish on Raw.
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Catch Sami Zayn this May when WWE Live returns to the UK. For more information regarding all WWE Live Events in the UK visit www.bookingsdirect.com